City of Miami Outsources Zoning Operations to Black-owned Firm

Written by The Miami Times

The city of Miami Gardens has found a planning and development firm that is very much local. E.L. Waters and Company LLC’s principal Elbert L. Waters said it has been hired to handle Miami Gardens planning and zoning operations.

The city of Miami Gardens has turned over the day-to-day operations and the cost of operating and staffing a planning and zoning department to E.L. Waters and Company. The company's offices are located in the Miami Gardens Shirley Gibson City Hall/Administration Building, where residents can access such services as plan reviews, plat or land recordings; make zoning inquiries; and access walkup services performed by a typical building and zoning department.

Several messages left at the city manager’s office went unanswered.

Waters, a graduate of Miami Norland Senior High School, has a Bachelor’s of Technology in Architectural Engineering from Florida A&M University; a Master's in City Planning/Urban Design from the Georgia Institute of Technology; a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Miami; and a John L. Loeb Fellow in Environmental Design from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Then Waters combines this technical knowledge with years of experience.

While with the city of Miami, Waters served in several positions, including director of Community Development/Housing; assistant director of the Planning, Building and Zoning department; chief of Land Development; and served as administrator over all 13 of Miami's Neighborhood Enhancement Centers (N.E.T.). He has 38 year’s of experience. Additionally, Waters helped to create four Urban Redevelopment plans that provided economic opportunities for residents of Southeast/Parkwest/Overtown, Dupont Plaza and the Model City/Liberty City areas of Miami. The well-known law firm of Becker & Poliakoff has called upon Waters expertise to serve as an expert witness in cases dealing with water resource issues.

Waters is a life member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., and a former board member of the Urban League of Greater Miami. A former member of FAMU's famed Marching 100 Band, Waters also spends some of his free time playing trumpet in the Broward Community Symphonic Band.

To compliment his skills, Elbert Waters then relies on a network of collaborators, partners and colleagues, who together, brings more than 116 years of planning experience and homegrown knowledge of Miami-Dade County, its diverse communities, climate and land variances. Only E.L. Waters has a contract with Miami Gardens, he said.  

Karen Coplin-Cooper, a graduate of Miami Central High Senior High School, is also a part of the E.L. Waters team. Cooper has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from Florida State University, as well as a Master’s of Science degree in Management, and a Graduate Certificate in Public Management from St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens. Cooper, too, worked for the city of Miami. In her 26 years with Miami, she rose through the Miami ranks from planning technician, to planner 1&2, to N.E.T. administrator, to senior assistant to the City Manager. She retired from the City of Miami in 2014.

Coplin-Cooper says, "Bert was my boss in several positions while employed at the city of Miami. He has been a mentor to me. Working with him now is like working with family. He is my business partner but he is also my big brother."

It is this close family-like relationship that allows Coplin-Cooper to jell her company, KC2 Consulting LLC, a government management resource company, so easily with E.L. Waters and Company. KC2 Consulting provides community planning and engagement, special projects, oversight, and quality concepts and practices.

Another valuable component is John H. Jackson, an engineer and licensed building official. While not a graduate of a Miami area high school, Jackson does add value by bringing years of experience as the former director of the city of Miami's Public Works Department; assistant director of the city of North Miami's Building and Zoning department; and project engineer for Dow Chemical Company; coupled with years of experiences as a project engineer in the Houston, and the Dallas, Texas areas. In addition to possessing a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Missouri, he also has a Master’s of Business Administration in Finance from the University of Houston.

For small to medium size cities like Miami Gardens (population over 105,000), Waters predict outsourcing planning and zoning could become a trend.

"E.L. Waters and Company LLC is poised to be a powerhouse" in Miami's urban design landscape.

The Miami Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has E.L. Waters and Company on its list of planning and development consultants. Past clients include the City of Opa-locka, and the city of West Park in Broward County.

"I am not aware of any other African-American firm doing what we are doing," said Waters.

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